Saturday, December 25, 2010

Being a Dad

[Originally posted Saturday, 05 June 2004; edited 2010.12.25]

I have one daughter who I'll call K. Although a bit headstrong and stubborn, taking after her father--this, according to her mother (ex-wife)--she is a good kid, which I attribute to solid rearing at a young age. She was born at Stanford and she was a talkative child from the start. Before K was born, I would talk to her through my ex-wife's stomach every chance I got, telling her how much I loved her, where I would take her and what we'd do once she was born. When she was born (Caesariean section), the doctor immediately showed her to mother and father--I was in the operating room, as well--and I said, "Hi K!" She opened her eyes and looked right at me as if she recognized the voice. The anesthesiologist monitoring the procedure and the nurse monitoring her mother were surprised, saying that it was as unusual a reaction as they had ever seen. But I could guess why. K had joined the world of the talker to whom she had been listening for nine months and she wanted to talk back. And once she did start talking, she wouldn't.

At Stanford, her mother and I would talk to her in a mixture of Japanese and English and she would understand everything we said, as kids will, but she would only talk in English as that was her environment. At day care, she was a leader--as many talkers are--and never took shit from anyone. One overweight kid had to learn this the hard way. He would take whatever toys he wanted, pushing aside anyone in his way. All the other kids would give in to this bully, but K--all of 18 months old--finally fed up with his antics, bit his cheek as they struggled for a toy. Oh, he cried and cried. When I went to pick her up after school, I was confronted by two very upset Jewish parents. They were coddling there precious bully and they showed me his cheek. Clear teeth marks remained embedded on his cheek. K had bitten hard enough to cause pain and leave an indentation that lasted a few hours, but not enough to break skin. What control! I was a bit worried, because the parents were threatening to sue. I apologized to them, but the teacher told me privately that K had done what every other kid wanted to do--even the teacher--but could not, so if they tried to pursue legal action, they would stand up for K. When I got home, I gave K a quiet but firm talking to: I told her that she stood up for herself and that was a good thing, but she should not have resorted to violence. Then I gave her a hug. What I really wanted to do was give her a high five, but she would not have understood that particular action.

When K was three years old, we went to Japan for my dissertation research and she had trouble adjusting. She was thrown into a world where suddenly she could no longer communicate. She could understand what others were saying to her, but she could only express herself in English, so she basically shut up in front of strangers. We enrolled her in daycare, where she was "semi-introverted": She got along well enough with everyone as long as she didn't have to speak. Then one day, about three months into daycare, as the class sang a song, she suddenly chimed in with the loudest voice: O te-te, tsunaide... According to the teachers, it was a wonderful moment they had been wishing for. Unfortunately, they did not know the concept of being careful of what you wish for. Once K knew that others could understand her, she wouldn't stop communicating.

Once, the class went on a field trip to Mt. Takao. One of the kids was handicapped, had trouble keeping up with the class and was trying desperately to hold back her tears. As they headed toward the picnic area for lunch, one of the teachers noticed that K was not with the group. Two of the teachers were about to go look for her, when K popped out of a wooded area with a bunch of flowers in her hand. The teachers were ready to admonish her for breaking away from the group and going off by herself--how un-Japanese!--but she walked right passed them straight to the handicapped girl, gave her the flowers and told her to cheer up, that she'd stay with her for the rest of the trip. Which she did. When I went to pick her up at the end of the day, her teacher related the events of the field trip to me and at the end asked, "How are you raising your child?" This time, on the way home, I did give K a high five...

I have a bunch of other stories, but there are only 24 hours in a day... Anyway, since I returned to the US, she has been reluctant to visit me--I get the sense that she thinks I abandoned them. But in my own defense, I would say that I believed that when we first went to Japan, the family would eventually return to the States when I got a job to teach. But when I got that job, my ex--a Japanese national--suddenly decided that she wanted to remain in Japan. There are a lot of details that I will not bring up here--marriages can be so complicated--but in the end, had my ex been willing to come as I thought we had originally planned, we probably would not have gotten a divorce. But we did and, as a result, I do not get a chance to see my daughter. I email when I can, but I haven't seen her since the summer of 1999. Since I remarried, I have been unable to go to Japan for variou$ reason$, and every year I ask K if she won't come visit me for the summer, but she flatly refuses. For the first nine years of her life, we were very close--she used tell everyone that I was the scariest (I'm strict) and nicest (we did everything together) dad in the world. I wonder what she says now. I hope that someday we can talk about what happened and that she will forgive me for not being with her for that last eight years.

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